Page 45 Review by Stephen
"If it doesn't already exist, Eddie Campbell will invent it."
- Stephen on Bacchus Volume Two
Bacchus Volume Two Omnibus Edition s/c (£35-99, Top Shelf) by Eddie Campbell.
"The Screamin' Habdabs! How did they get back?"
"It's beyond me."
"Everything's beyond you, Mortal Ken."
Let the revelry recommence!
ALEC's Eddie Campbell recounted tales of his 4,000-year-old, weather-worn demigod for nearly one and a half decades, ending in 1999. Sub-titled "Immortality Isn't Forever", BACCHUS VOLUME ONE found the Greek god of wine washed up on strangely sympathetic modern shores in far from fine physical fettle but with his spirits still riding high.
It was as much about the stories Bacchus had to tell - of his and other gods' escapades - as it was about Bacchus himself, who wandered across the globe from bar to bar or beach to beach in a battered old coat and a fisherman's cap which hides his wizened brow and his twin, stubby horns but not his lived-in laughter lines. Wherever he roamed he found ancient friends, along with new devotees eager to imbibe his wisdom.
In this concluding volume our weary one seeks successive sanctuary in two English country pubs, the second of which - on the shore - secedes from Britain after being condemned by Health & Safety.
Structurally, things will not improve save for a singular and substantial erection commemorating the King's birthday. The King in question is Bacchus himself who brews beer from abstract concepts on which - as an independent state - they refuse to pay taxes. Worried lest some Scottish islands distilling whiskey follow suit, thereby depriving the government of millions in revenue, the pub is besieged by the police; but it's that glorious morning's monument which will finally put paid to the monarchy and bang Bacchus back up for a much longer stint than the one during which we first met him - at Her Majesty's pleasure.
Meanwhile there's that revelry I made mention of, which is where Eddie's cohort in 'Campbell Industries' comes to the fore, because Pete Mullins has one hell of an eye for drop-dead gorgeous ladies dancing their deliciously curved hips off. These contours are accentuated by ever-so-chic dresses patterned with horizontal black and white stripes which - in the interests of equality - will serve a similarly revealing purpose on Bacchus' old-skool bathing suit, showing off his own not inconsiderable assets.
Unfortunately this attracts the attention of both Delirium Tremens and dour, disapproving Mr Dry, the latter pursuing the drink-loving demigod through a series of paintings, leaving each one a great deal less lively for his prohibitive presence. Hogarth's 'Beer Street', for example, loses all its lust, lustre and indeed frothy beverages, rendering its remaining denizens so sour-faced that one of them petulantly kicks a cat.
There are so many background jokes in that sequence alone, but this entire penultimate storyline is packed full of similarly anarchic ideas including a lady called Collage and a whole host of your favourite comicbook creators - Dave Sim ("I've fixed it so I can't be wrong!"), Neil Gaiman (constantly in demand to write blurbs for the back of the bar menu), Alan Moore, Jeff Smith et al - enduring mischievous mockery and considerable indignities, all in the aid of an elaborate storytelling slight-of-hand. Eddie Campbell's portraits are so spot-on that you'll recognise anyone you know immediately - so much so that when a character copyrighted by a certain corporation crops up without signing-posting, your brain will flip in a single second from an incredulous "He hasn't...!" to a grin-inducing "Oh yes, he has!" As to Campbell's ability to mimic, there's also an extensive parody of superhero trends at the time, right down to Rob Liefeld's inking style. If you think that's odd in such a body of work, then it's perhaps because I've yet to remind you that two-thirds of each volume is given over to the insane and highly explosive antics of the Eyeball Kid.
I alluded to Campbell's love of Jack Kirby in BACCHUS VOLUME ONE, but here there's an out-and-out 90-page slugfest ('Hermes Versus the Eyeball Kid') specifically inspired by Lee & Kirby's Hulk VersusThing showdowns. It comes complete with similarly structured splash pages, as well as more than one homage (making much use of that cog-based Spirograph toy which was all the rage half a century ago) to the photographic special effects which Kirby occasionally introduced to his line work. As to its laugh-out-loud, OTT "Behind you!" climax, it is ever so worthy of Kirby and Lee.
Anyway, stories: instead of Bacchus regaling his acolytes, this time he's on the receiving end both in clink and in his cups. In '1001 Nights of Bacchus' it's a Sheherezade-like situation, only without the threat of instant execution. As Bacchus settles in at The Travellers Joy and threatens to fall asleep, the storytellers' incentive is to keep him awake and so each evening's Last Orders at bay. Eddie explains his colleagues' collaboration and later the whole 'Campbell Industries' semi-satirical scenario in the various introductions, but - initially inspired by the short stories of O. Henry - Campbell and co come up with a dazzling array of entertainments, diverse in form, content and execution. There's an illustrated, rhyming ditty on bad beer penned by Marcus 'Minty' Moore, a ridiculously elaborate twist on the stock scenario of the Englishman, American/Welsh/Scottish and Irishman joke involving a badly behaved superhero (the stuff that Campbell can pack in to a single six-page story!), a wordless wonder ostensibly mimed by a Marcel Marceau - and when I say "ostensibly" and "wonder", it actually stars an impeccably drawn Stan Laurel surviving a day of very bad omens and incredibly good luck with "another fine mess" of a punchline - and, perhaps my favourite, the complete discombobulation of 'The Man Who Couldn't Say Boo' for whom order is all and firing someone such an anathema that he goes to increasingly ludicrous, message-leaving lengths not to do it in person.
As to the styles used in rendering, we have crisp and clear for the meticulous one above, photography with attendant ransom-note cut-and-pasted lettering, lots of scalpel-cut Letratone, a dirty sort of affair employing background textures acquired through grained paper or board rubbed with graphite for a grave-based, hallucinatory horror story which may owe something to Aristophanes' Ancient Greek play 'The Frogs' (I'm thinking the "Bobok" refrain - and also the frogs!) ... and that's just for those opening short stories!.
Basically this: it is by now a cliché - which I am as guilty of as anyone in perpetuating - to describe Eddie Campbell as the finest raconteur in comics.
But I don't just mean his gift of the gab in person or in print. I mean Eddie's ability to time his tall tales with such pin-point precision for maximum mirth, conjuring whatever visual tricks he deems most efficacious from previously thin air.
If it doesn't already exist, Eddie Campbell will invent it.
For more salutations and celebration, please see our review of BACCHUS VOLUME ONE, ALEC and so much more by popping Eddie Campbell into our search engine.
"It's been centuries since I commanded such devotion.
"And I thought that young people today had no respect for traditional values.
"And in these post-convivial times, too. My cult is born again.
"The doings of this day will re-establish my worship in the world.
"My disciples will carry forth the word and the word is...